No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

Who said there’s no such thing as bad publicity? The recent story about The Broadway Hotel in Blackpool which fined a guest £100 for writing a bad review on TripAdvisor suggests otherwise. It’s hard to imagine this particular business turning the sorry tale to their advantage. In fact, their crass approach to bad reviews is likely to have had quite the opposite effect. Whereas previously their poor reputation was confined to users of TripAdvisor and the like, now the whole world knows what their guests think of them. Only a masochist or someone cut off from the media would stay there.

Even TripAdvisor users are more aware of this hotel than before. Curiosity and the desire to send a message to the hotel owners has sent soaring the number of clicks for ‘helpful’ against the bad reviews. And they are bad. Out of 256 reviews on TripAdvisor, 150 rated it ‘Terrible’ and a further 24 ranked it ‘Poor’, with phrases like ‘Pure Filth’ and ‘Do Not Stay Here’ catching the eye.

What could the hotel do to take advantage of the bad publicity? The obvious answer is, they could improve their service so that guests don’t rate the place as ‘terrible’ in the first place. They could now take the opportunity of media interest to explain the reasons why they haven’t lived up to the expectations of customers previously, admit that fining bad reviewers was a mistake and genuinely overhaul how they run the business, perhaps offering a money back guarantee.

So so is it such a bad idea to include a clause in your contract that says any guest who gives a bad review will be fined a £100? Could it work for theatres? Apparently Trading Standards have agreed with the owners to drop the clause from the contract and the hotel will be refunding the ‘fine’. It would have been interesting to know whether Trading Standards or the credit card company against which the fine was charged thought it was legally binding. In the past, courts have tended to deem the public interest in uninhibited public criticism to be of paramount importance.

Putting that aside, it was never a good idea. There will always be bad reviews and a respectable website like TripAdvisor will remove any that are malicious or factually incorrect. Having said that, I know from personal experience that reviews can be unfair and sites are reluctant to remove them. There is the option of legal action if you feel a review is plain malicious, false and damaging to your reputation but, as I said, courts are reluctant to gag free speech when it’s against businesses or other organisations like, for example, political parties.

So the best approach is to grin and bear it. Theatres know this only too well. You take the rough with the smooth in the knowledge that good reviews wouldn’t be worth anything if they weren’t measured against bad ones. When I worked in theatre, I used to encourage the more timid reviewers to say if they didn’t like a show because otherwise readers would not value the times when they were positive. The ease with which today’s customers can post comments on company websites and social networks does mean that any good quality business or product will get a vast majority of good reviews.

It is just possible that some people will think it worth spending thirty odd quid just to be able to say that they stayed at this notorious hotel. Provided they don’t give it a bad review afterwards. Of course, if the hotel has fined all 174 TripAdvisor critics a £100, that’s a nice little earner.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn


By Paul Lewis

After a short stint as a journalist, I have spent most of my working life in marketing and retailing. I love theatre and have been lucky enough to work in theatre marketing for many years. I provide small businesses and arts organisations with holistic marketing at an economic price through my company Seven Experience Ltd

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